“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” ~ American Indian proverb.

"With all things and in all things, we are relatives." ~ Lakota (Sioux) saying.

“If you know that things are bound to happen whatever you do, then you may feel free to give up the fight against them.” ~ Karl Popper

10 September 2014

A few short thoughts on Scotland and the United Kingdom


Scotland is a great nation. It already is and always will be, within the union or out of it. 

But the United Kingdom is a great entity of its own: an accident of history that gives space for different nations and different peoples to express themselves within a bigger whole: a union of nations and peoples. That is something special and almost unique within the world. 

But it will be damaged, perhaps irrevocably, if Scotland departs.

To me, the Scots Independence debate seems to have shown a yearning not so much for separation, but rather for a state and a country that means something - for a better democracy. 

I think we can (and definitely should) all share that aspiration, but the idea that Scotland by cutting loose will be free from the denationalising forces of global wealth and power that bear down on us and our governments is fanciful – if anything it will be more vulnerable to them, as will the rest of us. There will be positive aspects in coming to terms with the reduced status that separation will bring, but they are nothing that could not be achieved within the union. 

I think the rest of us in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should wish the Scots well though, whatever their choice.

5 September 2014

Notes and Fragments, Part II



This is the second set of notes and fragments I have collated in the hope that there may be some value in my random scribblings on scraps of paper, Post-It notes and paper pads. The first set of these notes, principally on the environment and politics, has been notable only for the lack of page views it has attracted – a measly 27 at the time of writing. I think there’s some value both in them and in these, but I guess you can’t argue with the readers...


The left’s rationalism


The left’s rationalism excludes or delegitimizes feeling by re-categorising it along the same lines as knowing, thereby judging feelings on the same terms as knowledge – as right and wrong. By doing this, it enables you, as a person, to be wrong in your whole being – in the way you feel and experience the world. There is no escape. [N.B. Of course this isn't a lefty preserve. It is shared across the liberal spectrum by what we might call 'neo-liberals', who treat human beings rather absurdly as rational animals who are only obstructed from being rational by unnatural forces in government]

Party politics


Politics largely appears as a specialism just like other professions, with a cadre of specialised practitioners with their own language and frames of reference (rather than as a forum for a democratic community to make decisions for itself).

Interconnected


The fantastic interconnectedness of our world is mostly financial, not relational. This shadows GDP, since GDP numbers show people spending money, through the economy, rather than dealing with situations informally – for example neighbours helping one another (which damages the economy by stopping spending).

Patriarchy


If patriarchy means there is sexism, and it is quite widespread, that would not be desperately controversial. The trouble is the term is used for rather more than this. It is used as a defining characteristic of our society, more significant even than capitalism – and sometimes as an attribute of capitalism. From some voices patriarchy evokes a conspiracy of men against women; but if there is a conspiracy, then someone clearly forgot to tell me. If we are talking about something unconscious that exists but that us mere mortals are unaware of, then it certainly remains to be proven, using rather more than the logic of ‘here’s an example of sexism, so everything and everyone is sexist, including all women who don’t agree with me’.

Oppression


Oppression is an action, not a bunch of statistics.

Freedom


One thing they don't tell you about freedom is its bloody hard work, and its only reward is itself.

A simple ethic, with consequences


We should be defining and if necessary judging people by their actions, not by group membership. This is also a way to encourage good behaviour. If you know you can get away with not doing the right (or loyal) thing because of your group membership, you are more likely not to do it. Likewise if you think you can’t win whether or not you do the right (or loyal) thing, the incentive is there not to do it as well. This is corrosive for morale both in organisations and for individual people.

‘We’ and ‘Us’


Is there a ‘we’ any more for ‘us’? Are ‘we’ allowed to exist anymore, except as a characterless blob that is to blame for anything that we don’t want to blame anyone specific for?

Three stages of values in politics


Values have to be timeless in order to be values, otherwise they are more of the nature of policies, and are contingent on circumstances. In politics, we might see three stages in which to make sense of values.

1)      Statement of purpose. For example: ‘Labour wants to help make the world a better place for everyone.’
2)      Values. What we mean by ‘good’, and therefore ‘better’.
3)      Policies. Practical, realistic, realisable ways of making things better, demonstrating the values in the world.

3 September 2014

Some thoughts on the environment and politics, and other things



I am vain enough to think that my random thoughts are sometimes worth writing down. As a result, at any one time my world is normally drowning in pieces of paper, post-its and pads of scribbled notes on various topics.

Many of these notes are on the environment, something I think about a lot but haven’t written many articles about because I feel I don’t feel I’ve found the right language to talk about it without merely replicating the moaning and whingeing characteristic of most writings on it. Perhaps that is because this moaning and whingeing is the most appropriate way; nevertheless I’ve been seeking, perhaps naively, to look beyond this – for a better politics of the environment.

Here’s a few of those thoughts anyway - on the environment and other things from rationality to music in the Labour Party.


The environment: an afterthought to politics


Even though our environment – the world around us – is crucial to our health and wellbeing – it is normally an afterthought to our politics. Taking it seriously would impinge on people’s jobs and our prevailing economic narrative of more and more growth which necessarily means intruding more into the environment through more production, more consumption and more ‘development’. What is undeveloped becomes developed. Some academics, journalists and activists make the point for doing something variously about air quality, climate change, habitat loss and species extinction with it, but there is no one there to reply, for it is a whole economic system that is responsible. That system, its interconnections and institutions are so powerful that there seems little prospect of any serious change happening, and our party politics remains stuck in narrow, fearful confines.

The Greens – seeking sanctuary in narrow activism


If you care about nature and the environment, you can join any number of charities and NGOs, and give your few quid a week to support their projects and causes, but in politics – the place where real change can happen – it is much more problematic. The Green Party should offer you a home, but instead you see an incoherent high spending party taking on whatever left-wing cause is passing at the moment and thereby losing its focus. The Greens seek sanctuary in that hard core of highly-motivated but narrow-minded left-wing activists and therefore sacrifice all hope of building something much wider and more powerful.

Faith in God, or climate change


As Kant said, it is as wrong to deny God’s existence as to affirm it. The same goes for the idea of man-made global warming now. Climate change deniers ridicule advocates for inconsistencies and difficulties, but they are just as guilty, and probably much more so, for being just as adamant in the opposite direction – seemingly based on faith and desire rather than evidence.

Globalisation and respecting our elders


For the ideology of globalisation, our elderly people are outdated, regressive in their attitudes, past any usefulness they may have had, a drain on our economic and social advancement, superfluous to the ‘new world of change’.

Maintaining respect and relationships across the generations is surely one marker of any civilised society, but it’s something we generally fail at.

The American Indians and us


As a people, the American Indians have been wrenched from their roots, stripped of their traditions and the meaning of their traditions, and forced to submit to their own existential and material defeat in its entirety. Over here in Britain, economic and social liberalism has largely stripped us of our roots and traditions too, though not nearly to the same extent as over there. Nevertheless, the symptoms of existential defeat – alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment, welfare dependency, lack of care for the environment – are the same over here just as they are over there.

Rational


To be rational basically means to be right. Yet how is it possible to be completely right, about how things are, as a whole; and how they should be, as a whole; and how we can get from one to the other? It seems like a desperately ambitious project and except in a denuded, superficial way, is surely not possible; a fantasy. The whole is much too mysterious and unpredictable, so being safely rational must entail rather being critical and picking apart the big claims of others to big knowledge and great wisdom, exposing their lack of rationality.

Liberal politics


In liberal politics, you can say what you want, as long as it’s the right thing.

Labour music


Is ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ as good as it gets?

Labour Party culture


Far too much Labour activity seems to be devoted towards reinforcing the bonds within interest groups, scratching each others’ backs and telling each other what we like to hear – especially how great and righteous we are. We tell everyone else how great our friends are and they say how great we are, and everyone feels better about themselves. This is how the younger Labour elite that is largely dominant reinforces and reproduces itself. Under their aegis, the party sometimes looks more like a mutual support network than political party.

29 August 2014

There’s no getting away from it: Rotherham exposes the liberal-left’s moral vacuum


In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper quotes a passage from Hegel that shows how social ideologies can end up giving free rein to all sorts of bad behaviour.

Hegel says in it: “We may fairly establish the true principles of morality, or rather of social virtue, in opposition to false morality; for the History of the World occupies a higher ground than that morality which is personal in character – the conscience of individuals, their particular will and mode of action.”

Here we can see social virtue, or ‘social justice’ you might say, being consciously put up against personal morality and conscience, and beating it. Hegel’s true principles of morality trumped the false trivialities of people being good or bad to each other in real life.

The incredible failings of Rotherham Council and police in relation to the industrial-scale child sex abuse going on in that town show how such ideas are not mere fodder for dry debates in the fusty rooms of academia. They are rather having a huge impact on the way our public authorities manage us – and our most vulnerable people are sometimes bearing the brunt, as exposed in Professor Alexis Jay’s report.

In this case and others of similar abuse involving men of overwhelmingly Pakistani origin – as documented by Julie Bindel as far back as 2007 – public authorities have forsaken basic ethics and responsibilities to a dogma of diversity or multiculturalism conceived not as a basic fact of life but as a belief system.

This belief system, which is becoming more rather than less prevalent on the mainstream liberal-left, involves a specific favouritism towards people of ‘diverse’ backgrounds (non-white/immigrant) above those defined as non-diverse (white English/British).

In this way, diversity targets are set for public bodies and the Labour Party for example (with a desire to expand to private and voluntary sectors), public money gets spent (as Al Razi has pointed out, Rotherham spent £300,000 a year on a ‘diversity team’ in 2010) and a culture is established which discourages criticism and intervention against those seen as diverse. Normally the consequences are relatively benign (though sometimes corrosive for workplace morale). But the Rotherham case shows this attitude of protection and leniency towards those whose race is an issue can have dreadful consequences.

Take this from the Executive Summary of Professor Jay’s report:

By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”

Rotherham social services’ culture actually seems to have been stuck in a sort of an extreme ideological hole, as can be seen from it banning a couple of UKIP members from fostering for apparently belonging to a "racist party".

But a report from the Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children Board back in December 2013 shows another troubling angle to the authorities’ attitude. It says:

Both the media and public perception has been that Rotherham has failed to protect children involved in CSE or identified offenders and brought them to justice. Perception however is not always reality. It is now clear that CSE...is pervasive across the length and breadth of the country."

The explanation that they didn’t actually fail to protect these children because child sexual exploitation is happening elsewhere is clearly absurd. By saying it’s a wider national or societal issue they mean it’s beyond the responsibility of mere mortals, including themselves who are being paid and elected to be responsible for it in their area.

For Labour, which had been presiding as a virtual one-party state in Rotherham, the revelations from there and elsewhere will likely not have a disastrous effect at the ballot box next year. But they pose a big challenge to a party infrastructure, rulebook and culture that has institutionalised favouritism and wants to impose it much more widely on British public life. A minority or small majority Labour government will surely have serious problems implementing further ethnic favouritism, not least when we can see it contribute to such horrific circumstances for vulnerable young people who are not protected by these systems.

These practices also pose a philosophical problem for a party one of whose leaders, Harold Wilson, said, "is a moral crusade or it is nothing". For group rights without responsibilities means the end of morality: identity has trumped ethics.  


For more on similar themes, see Identity politics and the left page.

26 August 2014

Mrs Thatcher was actually right: there is no such *thing* as society



Margaret Thatcher’s comment that ‘there is no such thing as society’ has a totemic significance on the left.

It serves as the trademark of an uncaring, right-wing ideologue who believed in selfishness as opposed to solidarity and community, to the extent that she didn’t even recognise the ties that bind us in society.

The thing is – and this is coming from a lefty – she was actually right.

The infamous phrase was uttered in an interview for Woman’s Own in 1987, in which she said:

Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

She said it in full a little later:

There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

This is an argument for responsibility and reciprocity – which you could easily recast as one of society, not against it. Thatcher did also use society in a positive sense, for example in her 1987 Conference speech, in which she said:

Local councils, teachers, broadcasters, politicians: all of us have a responsibility to uphold the civilised values which underpin the law.

We owe it to society of which we are a part.”

But her account is not of society a thing with the attributes that things or objects have. Her view requires us all to get off our arses and do something rather than leaving it all to the Government or an abstract outside force called ‘society’ which we can praise or blame for whatever takes our fancy.

That is perfectly fair, and it is good that so many on the left and in Labour, notably Jon Cruddas, have come around to a similar viewpoint – that an impersonal state doling out goods to the masses cannot alone provide for a good society. Without people getting involved, caring for each other, taking pride in their communities and taking responsibility for their actions, the state is fighting a losing battle. It cannot stop people littering and vomiting on our pavements; it cannot alone bring up children to be good citizens; it cannot prevent all crime from happening. Good citizens don’t tend to commit crime, and if crime didn’t happen, there would be no need for the state to prevent and punish it.

But Labour’s old ways remain very much in evidence alongside this new and welcome understanding, flowing up through the internal structures of the party from the various interest groups and back down again from the centre, fixing outcomes and trampling on devolved power and democracy wherever it exists within the party. Labour has been clear that these practices, involving further preferential treatment for favoured groups like women and ethnic minorities, will be replicated in government if it returns to power.

These practices are often justified by some startlingly immodest social theories that claim to understand the whole world, with grids of universal oppression and privilege separating different groups, and society itself as an actor that makes only bad things happen to the oppressed and good things to the privileged.

There is something of an irony here, in that these parts of the left rage at Mrs Thatcher for not believing in ‘society’ while themselves regarding society as an enemy that needs to be defeated (c.f. Laurie Penny and the slogan ‘Destroy the Patriarchy’). These sorts of theories retain a lot of influence on the ways of the left, and exist in a state almost beyond criticism and critique. Anyone who dares to criticise them – and I speak from experience – gets damned as anti-women, racist and against equality (regarded in Orwellian terms as its opposite).

These contortions of ideology are given almost a free rein not just because of the authoritarian politics they promote, which stifle and suppress criticism, but because they are impossible to falsify. Society or something like patriarchy has no form. It has no limits, nothing which we can see and hear and bear witness to. When we rage at society, there is no one to answer back. It can mean anything or nothing. There is literally no it there.

In other words, there is no such thing as society.


For more on similar themes, see Philosophy, thought and literature page.